Student Profile: Skarlet Velasquez

As doctoral student in epidemiology, Skarlet Velasquez has been able to merge her interests in economics, policy and public health into research pursuits aimed at improving the health of women and children by minimizing harmful environmental exposures.

“I have been able to understand how multidisciplinary public health is. Coming in with a policy background, I have been able to understand the importance of research and evidence-based science in order to drive real-life solutions.”

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics

May 2022

Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia
Master of Public Health, concentrating in Health Policy and Management, College of Public Health, University of Georgia

I am originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and my hometown is Augusta, Georgia.

What research are you passionate about? 

I am very passionate about maternal and child health, particularly in regards to reproductive disorders and environmental exposures. I am interested in investigating which environmental pollutants are having an adverse effect on women and using that knowledge to change policies in order to decrease these effects.

What exciting projects are you working on? 

I am currently working on my dissertation titled: “The role of flame retardants as endocrine disruptors and their effect on adverse pregnancy outcomes.” My research consists of analyzing data on environmental exposures, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals, and their impact on reproductive and developmental outcomes.  I am analyzing data from the Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) cohort. PROTECT is a program that looks into environmental contamination influencing adverse pregnancy outcomes. The goal of my dissertation is to identify knowledge gaps on the role of flame-retardants on adverse pregnancy outcomes, examine how exposure to these substances during pregnancy may contribute to preterm birth and low birth weight, and to examine maternal hormones as one possible mechanism through which flame-retardants may affect these pregnancy outcomes.

I am also analyzing data from the New Hampshire Birth Cohort study at Dartmouth College to examine mixtures of possible endocrine disrupting chemical exposures on pregnancy outcomes.

In addition to my dissertation research, I am working with the College’s Practice, Research, and Mentorship in Epidemiology (PRIME) workgroup on understanding COVID-19 and its effect on the mental health of college students.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

There have been many highlights during my time here so far. One of them is working with the PRIME workgroup. As a doctoral student, I co-lead with other doctoral students in the PRIME workgroup, a multidisciplinary research and training group for graduate and undergraduate students interested in using epidemiological methods to study public health issues ranging from infant and maternal health to the surveillance and control of infectious disease and environmental exposures.

Another highlight for me was serving as President of the Graduate Scholars of Epidemiology and Biostatistics (GSEB) student organization. Our organization has been able to establish a food pantry on the Health Sciences Campus in order to combat food insecurity among graduate students, which often goes unnoticed.

What achievements/awards during your time here are you most proud of?

While at UGA, I was inducted into the UGA Blue Key National Honor Society, which recognizes students who have a demonstrated record of success and excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service. I also had my very first publication. I co-authored the publication with Mechelle Claridy, Nicholas Mallis, & Dr. Stephanie Eick, Dr. Michael Welton and Dr. José F. Cordero. Our study looked at the associations between gestational weight gain and preterm birth in Puerto Rico.

Lastly, I was awarded the KC Donnelly Award from the Superfund Research Program (SRP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Through this program, I spent two months in New Hampshire collaborating with faculty at Dartmouth College to examine the relationship between flame-retardant exposures and phthalate biomarkers measured by silicone wristbands in pregnant women and their associations to birth outcomes.

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

I am very passionate about continuously learning not only in my field, but other fields as well. I love cooking, traveling, reading, and spending quality time with my family and friends. I also love true crime documentaries and romantic comedies.

How has the current pandemic impacted your educational experience at UGA and CPH?

I think that the current pandemic has allowed us to become more creative in the learning process. One good thing is that being able to work from home has allowed me to spend more time with family and friends. I have still been able to get the most of my educational experience at UGA and CPH.

What insights have you gained as a public health student?

I have gained so much insight as a public health student at UGA. I have been able to understand how multidisciplinary public health is. Coming in with a policy background, I’ve been able to understand the importance of research and evidence-based science in order to drive real-life solutions.

What are your plans beyond graduation? 

I have accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Dr. John Meeker, professor of environmental health science at Michigan’s School of Public Health, and Dr. José F. Cordero, professor and head of epidemiology & biostatistics here at UGA. I will be expanding my research and training by examining the effects of organophosphate flame-retardants and phthalates on maternal thyroid function, maternal reproductive function, and infant neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Posted on February 15, 2022.